Sourwood - Oxydendrum arboreum
Heath Family (Ericaceae)
- Native habitat: Coast of Virginia to North Carolina and in southwestern Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, Indiana, western Kentucky, Tennessee, the Appalachians to western Florida and the coasts of Mississippi and Louisiana.
- Growth habit: A pyramidal growth habit with a rounded top and drooping branches.
- Tree size: Reaches a height of 25 to 30 feet with a spread of 20 feet. Has a slow growth rate.
- Flower and fruit: Small, quarter-inch flowers look like upside-down urns. They open in June and are fragrant, white, and hang from 4- to 10-inch panicles. The flowers persist as clusters of small brown fruit. Fruit is a dehiscent, five-valved capsule about one-third of an inch long.
- Leaf: Alternate, simple leaves are 3 to 8 inches long and 1½ to 3½ inches wide. Leaves are dark green, slick and glossy, helping prevent injury from pollution.
- Hardiness: Winter hardy to USDA Zone 5.
Sourwood makes an excellent specimen tree, and can also be used in shrub borders with Rhododendron, Pieris and Leucothoe. Sourwood's wood is hard and has red-tinged brown heartwood and thick layers of pale sapwood.
Lumber is used for tool handles and was once used to make wagon sled runners. Sourwood flowers are very attractive to bees, and sourwood honey is common in the South.
Its honey, which has a medium to light color with heavy body, is slow to granulate.
The scientific name for sourwood comes from the Greek words oxys (acid) and dendron (tree) and refers to the sour taste of its leaves. The leaves are used as a thirst-quencher by hikers and mountain climbers, and were once brewed to make a tonic.
The largest known sourwood in North America is in Robbinsville, N.C. It is 118 feet tall with a 2-foot trunk. Sourwood was introduced into the landscape in 1747.